As previously discussed, thanks to the kind attentions of a couple of the folks from Lenovo, I’ve managed to get my hands on one of the new Thinkpad X300’s for a few months of testing. This is what we in the business know as a “score.”
Upon receipt of the hardware, I first ran the stock instance of XP that it had shipped with, but as of a week or so ago I blew that away in favor of a native installation of the latest Ubuntu iteration, Hardy Heron.
To review the hardware, I’ll look at it in two parts. First, because this is what most of you will be interested in, I’ll look at hardware itself and the software experience as it relates to Windows. Tomorrow, for those that are interested, I’ll explore how the X300 handles under Ubuntu.
So, to the review.
- Battery Life:
Ubuntu tells me that with the standard three cell battery the machine shipped with, I can expect a little over two hours run time, which feels accurate. This includes wifi running, but no DVD playback.
My recommendation would be to upgrade to the six cell battery.
- DVD Player/Burner:
The only thing I’ve used the DVD player for thus far was the initial Ubuntu install, which is one of the reasons I’m generally not a fan of them. I have not used the burning features at all. It is impressive that they’ve managed to cram a player into such a slight frame, however.
The black matte finish to the machine is attractive, but picks up skin oil like it was designed for the purpose. It resists scratching, and is otherwise unremarkable.
Thinkpads have never had many problems with structural flex, but the X300 distinguishes itself in this regard – in spite of its slight stature. My X40, by comparison, feels positively rubbery compared to the stiffness of the X300. It’s extremely impressive.
I haven’t tested this capability, first because it requires the usage of the laptop outside, and second because after blowing the Windows install away I have not tried to access the GPS hardware.
While the X300 trounces the MacBook Air when it comes to available hardware – it has more USB ports, an ethernet port, available WWAN, and so on – it’s missing a two things I use frequently on my X40. The SD card reader, which is handy for importing pictures from my Nikon, and the PCMCIA slot, which I used for my AT&T WWAN card. Neither of these omissions are deal breakers, but they’re inconvenient. Graphics people are also likely to be disappointed by the VGA rather than DVI out.
While they’re currently unusable under Ubuntu – more on that tomorrow – the Windows trial was enough to demonstrate that the speakers are far and away the best I’ve heard on a machine in this class. They’re mounted on the upper surface of the keyboard and competent, if not in the class of those found on larger models.
Part of this, Mac users tell me, is a software problem, but I find the location of the touchpad problematic. Unfortunately deactivating it under Ubuntu deactivates the mouse, so it remains turned on and it is with some frequency that an errant thumb misplaces the cursor and I begin typing into windows I hadn’t meant to. How some users prefer a touchpad is beyond me; I personally can’t stand them and wish the model didn’t include one.
Fortunately, it does include a trackpoint, which is as quietly functional as ever.
Next to the Solid State Drive (SSD), the screen is likely the most impressive feature of the machine. At 13.3 inches, its 1440×900 resolution not only bests the MacBook Air’s, it makes the machine at once more productive. As I write this, I have emacs open side by side with my instance of Firefox; an arrangement that was impossible on the traditional 1024×768 X-series screens. I generally spend most of the day with Firefox and Twhirl opened side by side, so that I can keep in touch with my contacts and use Firefox simultaneously.
The screen, in short, is nothing less than outstanding.
The footprint of the machine, featuring as it does a 13.3 inch screen rather than the traditional 12.1 of the X-series, is clearly larger. The X300 will fit in the Patagonia bag that has the misfortune of serving as my briefcase, but barely. Its width means that the laptop pocket must be completely opened for entrance and exit.
That said, it is noticeably thinner than my older X-series models, although about a tenth of an inch thicker than the MacBook Air.
The solid state drive – a larger, internal version of the USB flash drives that are common – is impressive, although not overtly so. The silence of the drive itself is mostly offset by the inclusion of a system fan that spend a great deal of time on and generating background white noise. The most noticeable performance related feature of the drive comes in startup; the X300 goes from cold start to login screen on Hardy in 31 seconds.
By way of comparison, my X40 – which has one less core and no SSD but is otherwise a match in memory and clockspeed – takes 64 seconds to make the same transit.
In general usage, there are no obvious implications to working off of an SSD, but it feels snappier – like you’re working on a machine with a great deal of memory. Which, technically speaking, I suppose you are.
As nearly as I can determine, the configuration I received weighs in at approximately 3.3 pounds, which is plenty light for me. It’s light enough, in fact, that nearly everyone who’s picked it up has remarked that they expected it to be heavier.
I have not tested this capability, although the model I received does have onboard EVDO, because I’m an AT&T customer. It is present, however.
- Lenovo Software:
I’ve been told on several occasions that the Lenovo staff is proud of its suite of add-in software – pieces to control wifi/WWAN, adjust machine settings, and so on – and that they consider this software to be a competitive differentiator.
I do not share this opinion, nor does anyone I’ve spoken with. Nor any of those that wrote in following my issue with the wifi module, which was itself a case in point.
While Windows XP includes a wireless network discovery and connection mechanism, Lenovo includes their own redundant component which preempts the Windows mechanism by default. Unfortunately for me, it did not work; refusing to connect on approximately every other boot and becoming unresponsive. To make matters worse, after uninstalling this connection software, I initially could not restore wireless because the separate Lenovo component that activates or deactivates the various on board radios was mislabeled. Active meant inactive, and inactive meant active.
It would be nice if Lenovo included an option for buyers to order a vanilla installation of the operating system that did not include these often unhelpful components.
- Verizon WWAN:
Another point of irritation was the Lenovo connectivity software for the onboard Verizon WWAN hardware. As mentioned previously, I have no interest in activating this feature because I’m an AT&T customer not a Verizon customer. And yet the controlling software insisted on launching itself immediately after every boot. I finally had to go into msconfig and deactivate it from the startup profile, but many Windows users would not know how to do that, nor should they use msconfig.
- Windows XP:
An item of mild interest; the test machine shipped to me did not include Windows Vista, in spite of the license gracing the bottom, but Windows XP. This appears to be attributable to the machine’s status as testing hardware, but I found it interesting all the same. Given that it was not preinstalled, however, I cannot comment on how Vista performs and whether or not there are any of the common hardware issues.
The machine is highly polished, and eminently capable of performing at a high level running Windows XP. While untested, the same could likely be said of Vista. If you can find room in your budget for a premium-priced piece of hardware, it’s highly recommended for the Windows user.